In January, the Pinelands Commission failed to approve a plan to build a natural-gas pipeline through a section of the Pine Barrens, but that hasn't ended the debate.

Area lawmakers and officials are hoping to revive the plan, and the 7-7 vote seems to have left a rift on the commission.

Objections to the plan fall into two broad categories.

Environmentalists fear the construction will endanger the 1.1-million-acre pinelands, the largest natural area between Maine and Florida. Some hope that without the pipeline, the B.L. England Generating Station - which now burns coal and oil - will close, replaced by windmills and solar panels.

The other objection has been with the way the application for the pipeline was made. Under the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan, a private company such as South Jersey Gas should have applied for something called a "waiver of strict compliance." Instead, the application for the pipeline was made by the state Board of Public Utilities, which sought a simpler memorandum of understanding between government agencies, something that requires less evidence.

We continue to support construction of the pipeline. The environmental objections to this project have been overblown. While the proposed 22-mile route from Maurice River Township to Upper Township would pass through 10 miles of preserved forests, the pipeline would run along or under Route 49 - under blacktop and traffic, not through groves of endangered plants.

And the idea that the power plant's generating capacity can be made up through wind and solar installations is simply wishful thinking.

More important, the B.L. England plant is one of the state's largest sources of air pollution. Converting it to cleaner-burning natural gas will help the environment, not hurt it.

There are other good reasons to support the pipeline, including construction jobs, jobs at the power plant and strengthening the natural gas infrastructure in Cape May County.

We understand that it is not the Pinelands Commission's business to create jobs or boost Cape May County's economy, but if a project can help do those things without substantial environmental risk, residents of this area of the Pine Barrens will benefit.

That leaves the other big objection, that the application for the pipeline was improperly made. The commissioners who feel that way have a point.

The path forward is for South Jersey Gas to file for a waiver of strict compliance and make its case.


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